The U.S. Department of Education provides more than $150 billion in financial assistance for education each year. However, if you want your child to have a chance at receiving any of this aid, you’ll have to fillout FAFSA. FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is one of the most significant determinants of how your child’s higher educatio nwill be funded. Administered by the Department of Education, FAFSA analyzes your income and other household financial information to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which in turn determines how much finanacial aid your child is eligible to receive. Learn why it’s importanr t osubmit FAFSA and what you’ll need to do duringthe submission process.

Who should fill out FAFSA?

The short answer to this question is everyone that wants to pursue higher education. There is technically no income limit for who can receive federal aid, and FAFSA also makes you eligible for non-need-based aid, such as federal loans. There are also no academic requirements for FAFSA, so even if your child isn’t astraight-A student, he or she may still be able to qualify for aid. Consider the following eligibility requirements for students to receive federal aid:

  • Must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or an eligible non-citizen
  • Must have a valid Social Security number
  • Must have earned a high school diploma or GED
  • Must be enrolled or accepted as enrolled as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program
  • If student is a male aged 18–25, he must be registered with the Selective Service
  • Must not owe refunds on any federal student grants
  • Must not be in default on any federal student loans
  • Must not have been found guilty of the sale or possession of illegal drugs while federal aid is being received
  • Must sign a statement indicating federal aid will only be used for educational purposes

Even if your child doesn’t meet all of theserequirements, you should still fill out FAFSA, since most schools and states use FAFSA to award nonfederal aid, which your child may be eligible for. Keep in mind that you need to fill out a FAFSA each year you want your family to be considered for aid, not just the year your child first enters school.

How to complete FAFSA

To complete FAFSA, visit www.fafsa.gov, where you can choose to either complete the form online or via a paper option, which you will need to mail in. Keep in mind that you should never be charged to fill out FAFSA—if you are asked for payment, you should check to make sure you are on a .gov website. The only thing filling out FAFSA should cost you is time—likely one or two hours.

Important Deadlines

The federal window to complete FAFSA for an academic year is from the prior October to the following June. For example, for the 2017-2018 academic year, the FAFSA window is from October 1, 2016 to June 30, 2018.

However, keep in mind that since states and schools use FAFSA to determine aid as well, they will also have their own deadlines. You can check your state deadline at www.fafsa.gov and your school deadline on the school’s website. Some school or state deadlines may be as early as January (although most will be closer to February or March). Make sure you verify if the school’s deadline refers to when your application is submitted, processed or received by the school, and plan accordingly.

It’s important to file FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1, as some aid is given on a first-come, first-served basis.

Information You’ll Need to Apply

Before logging on to fafsa.gov, be sure you have the following information, which you’ll need to complete the form:

  • Independent/dependent student status. If your child is considered an independent student (he or she is more than 24 years old, married or in the armed forces, for example), then your financial information will not be counted toward his or her FAFSA. If your child is a dependent, you will need the following information for both him or her and for you and your spouse or co-parent.
  • Social Security number
  • Driver’s license number
  • Federal tax information. You may be able to import your tax information directly to FAFSA using the IRS DRT (data retrieval tool). Use the tax information from the tax year two years prior to the academic year for which you are applying. For example, for the 2017-2018 academic year, you would use your 2015 tax information.
    • 41040
    • W-2
    • Foreign tax return (if applicable)
  • Rcords of any untaxed income
    • Child support
    • Interest
    • Veterans’ benefits
  • Financial asset information
    • Savings/checking account balances
    • Investments
    • Real estate other than the home
    • Business assets
  • Federal school codes for schools you want FAFSA sent to. Keep in mind that to be considered for state aid, some states will require you to list a state school as your first option. You can list up to 10 schools on the online form, and up to four on the paper form.

Submitting Your FAFSA

Once you have filled out all the necessary information, you will need to sign and date the form, as well as having your child sign and date. If you fill out the form online, you will need to use an electronic PIN as your password. If your state requires you to fill out a separate aid application, some states may allow you to transfer this information directly to the state form through the FAFSA website, if you submit online. If you have multiple children in college, keep in mind that the confirmation page you receive once you submit the form will allow you the option to transfer all parent information to a sibling’s FAFSA, which can be a big timesaver.

What happens once you submit FAFSA?

Once you submit your form, a federal processor will process the form and then send the results to the financial aid offices of the schools you listed on your application. Results will also be sent to your state’s agencies in any other states where you may have applied to school. Schools and state agencies use your FAFSA and a formula established by law to calculate your EFC. Your EFC does not represent the amount of money you will ultimately be responsible for or the amount of federal aid you will receive; it is simply a number used by schools to calculate your aid package.

Within a few weeks or even a few days of submitting, you will receive your Student Aid Report (SAR), which is a summary of the information you submitted. It will also include your EFC, provided your application is complete. If you can see from your SAR that you’ve made a mistake on your FAFSA, you can correct it online. Some schools may ask for verification of your financial information, so you should have proper documentation of anything you write on your FAFSA.